Sep 13

From the vault: 3 Colombian phrases you should not translate literally

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There are times when learning a language that you’re stunned at the similarities. For example there’s an old Spanish proverb (“A caballo regalado no se le mira el diente) that literally means “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. Who’dathunk it?

There are times, however, when you’re left baffled by what you’ve just heard. “A papaya puesta, papaya partida” (or “Papaya served, papaya eaten”) will make sense to hungry papaya lovers until they realise it means that if you leave yourself open to being taken advantage of, you’re going to get taken advantage of. Who knew papaya was so mean?! (Still, lo que no te mata, te hace mas fuerte.)

Then there are times when you absolutely should not, for any reason, try to translate Spanish into English because you’re going to be saying some things you really shouldn’t be. Here’s three to take heed of when you travel to Colombia:

1. Marica

Colombian slang
Do cowboys call each other marica?

You’re wandering the streets with your Colombian friend when you run into his Colombian friend. You listen intently, keenly trying to pick up on Spanish to improve what you’ve got already.

‘Como estas?’, your friend says.

‘Todo bien, gracias. Como te va?’, comes the reply. All good so far.

Bien, marica, bien.’ Here’s your stumbling block. You take a mental note and rush home to look up ‘marica’ in the dictionary so you can call all your bilingual friends the English translation and have a laugh.

You end up offending everyone by calling them a faggot. Avoid.

2. Culicagao

Colombian slang
Cute little baby, just don’t check its nappy…

Awww, what a cute baby! Why, couldn’t you just eat it all up? Don’t you just want to squeeze those fat little cheeks, bite those tiny little toes and hear that irresistible little squeak of a laugh? You probably also want it to be bilingual like its parents and so, like them you call it a ‘culicagao’ before deciding you should translate it.

You, friend, just called that baby a ‘shitty ass’. Avoid.







3. Mamar Gallo

Colombian slang

You’re that friend with a wicked sense of humor. Very deadpan, very dry, very quick-witted. You tell a friend an elaborate story that will worry, shock and possibly offend him. He looks you square in the eyes, not entirely trusting you but not wanting to laugh just in case the incident is as grave as you make out. Eye contact lasts a good two minutes before a smile begins creeping across your face. You see the realisation sink in: Thank the lord, you’re joking! Your friend lets out a hearty, exultant laugh, full of relief and appreciation for your sense of humor. “No me mames gallo”, he tells you, laughing. To continue the joke, you English-ify what he said to you back to him, but instead of “no, you’re pulling my leg!”, you go literal instead.

“No, you don’t suck my cock!”, you say. Avoid.


By Paul Fowler

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